Chapter 1: shards of devotion
Adam Parrish didn’t have a soulmark.
It wasn’t that uncommon. If anything, it was rarer for someone to have a soulmark - that’s what the hard numbers said. He would have found it reassuring, knowing that, if he’d been the type to dwell on his lack of a soulmark.
He wasn’t. It didn’t matter, he’d told himself long ago, and had put it out of his mind, except for those moments in the dark of night after a particularly painful evening at home when he would think, self-pityingly, of course I don’t have a soulmate. Who could ever love me?
Neither of his parents had a soulmark, which wasn’t a surprise. Honestly, it was safer for him not to have one. Adam had imagined, once, waking up to find someone’s name on his arm, and had been unable to stop himself from thinking of what would happen next, when his father saw it.
No, it was much safer not to have one. He assured himself of that and put it out of his mind, ignoring the gossip at school whenever someone manifested a new one, ignoring the sighs and daydreams of those who hoped they might. He had other things to worry about, after all.
He didn’t think about it much at all until he met Gansey, until a while into their friendship when Gansey pulled off his sweater and Adam saw scrawling marks on the inside of his wrist. He averted his eyes politely, but Gansey only smiled - easy, proud, eyes sparkling - and turned his arm toward Adam.
Blue, the name read, and Adam had to smile.
“It’ll be easy to find them,” he said. “There can’t be a lot of Blues running around.”
“You’d be surprised,” Gansey said, a bit mournfully. “There are thousands just in this country.”
He’d checked, of course, which also didn’t surprise Adam. If anyone deserved a soulmate - if anyone had the easy capacity for love that would ensure the fates would give them someone perfect for them, it would be Gansey.
“It probably means the fucking color,” Ronan said, sprawled out on the grass next to them. “Gansey’s soulmate is his favorite fucking color.”
Unbidden, Adam’s eyes flickered towards his wrists - impolite to look, impolite to seem curious about whether someone had a soulmate or not, and he’d managed to avoid it so far. But with Gansey’s Blue on his mind, Adam looked without meaning.
Ronan’s wrists were covered by his leather bands, but Adam could see a tracery of black underneath them. He couldn’t read the name, but unless Ronan had chosen to get a tattoo in the exact spot his soulmark should be, there was one there.
He might have. Some people did, either because they didn’t want to know or because they wanted to pretend they had one when they didn’t. But Adam didn’t think either of those things was Ronan’s style.
Ronan caught his eye and scowled at him, anger flashing bright, and Adam looked away quickly. Gansey’s soulmark hadn’t bothered him, had seemed right, but Ronan? Angry, sometimes cruel Ronan who’d never wanted him there, who spent the first weeks they knew each other being a colossal asshole to Adam at all times? Ronan, who barely had the capacity to care for another human being?
Even he had a soulmark. But not Adam.
“Blue isn’t my favorite color,” Gansey said, somewhat offended, and Ronan made a rude comment about how the name on Gansey’s wrist should be Glendower, and they moved on.
They didn’t talk about it again until after they’d met Blue. Until Adam asked her out, and only then learned her name. He’d tried to backpedal, but there was no graceful way to un-ask someone out, and Blue had ferreted out the reason almost instantly, then responded with towering fury to the idea that Adam wouldn’t ask her out because she was probably his friend’s soulmate.
There had been a lot about how soulmates were bullshit, how fate was bullshit, how she had free will and could choose who to be with, how the name on her arm - or her name on someone else’s arm - would not dictate her life. How he shouldn’t let it, either.
It had still felt strange dating what he was quickly convinced was Gansey’s soulmate. It was one thing to date someone with a soulmark - plenty of people did. You could have a soulmate and never meet them, or not until years had passed, and just because you had a mark didn’t mean they were the only one you could ever love.
Just the one you’d fit best with. Just the one who would love every part of you, always.
But it was a little different dating someone with a soulmark who might meet their soulmate years down the line, and dating someone with a soulmark whose soulmate almost certainly was your best friend. Adam carefully avoided ever looking at Blue’s mark, made easier by the fact that she kept it covered with long sleeves or wristbands, and Gansey almost immediately told him that it was fine.
It wasn’t fine. Not really. He liked Blue, he liked her a lot, but she had a name on her wrist and he didn’t. There was some part of Adam, on some level, that was unfit to love another person. And there was another part, a larger part, that would never be comfortable possibly taking from Gansey the person who would love him completely.
That wasn’t why it ended - he ruined it all on his own - but it contributed. And when she and Gansey started getting closer, it didn’t surprise anyone.
“I was reading about soulmarks,” Gansey said one day, carefully, as they returned from a trip to Cabeswater. “They can develop late.”
You could still get one, Adam knew that meant, and he already didn’t want to be having this conversation.
“It’s rare for them to develop after someone’s early teens, but not impossible. I even read about someone who didn’t get theirs until they were 45 years old and newly divorced.” Gansey enjoyed this knowledge, it was clear. He probably thought it was romantic.
“And some people never develop them at all,” Adam said. “It’s normal. It’s not a big deal.” He may have said it a little more harshly than intended, since Gansey fell silent and did not bring the subject up again.
Adam looked it up on his own later, but it wasn’t because of Gansey.
It was because of Ronan. Ronan, who looked at him too long, who left him gifts of hand lotion and terrible mix tapes, who was impossible and angry and fiercely loyal and - unfortunately - very handsome.
Ronan, who had a name on his arm that wasn’t Adam’s.
At a public terminal in Henrietta’s small library, Adam done what he had never done before and looked up facts, theories, statistics.
Only 37% of people developed a soulmark.
Of those people, 98% developed it before the age of fifteen.
There were no solid theories about what caused a soulmark to develop or not develop. If it was only your closest match, everyone would have a soulmark. You were not guaranteed to ever meet your soulmate, and there were plenty of stories of people searching forever and not finding them. Or finding someone with the same name and only later realizing their John wasn’t the correct John.
There were also stories about people with soulmarks finding love and lasting relationships with someone who wasn’t their soulmate, but Adam could not help but wonder how well that worked. Wouldn’t it hurt, always, to know that there was someone out there who could love your lover better than you ever could? Wouldn’t you constantly be comparing yourself to them?
His thoughts shied away from the marks on Ronan’s wrist.
He began to feel sick when he read, One thing most researchers agree on is that in order to develop a soulmark, one must have a strong understanding of love. The most common similarity among those who develop soulmarks is that they had growth and development that gave them a solid foundation for their conception of what love is.
He read the rest of the article with a morbid feeling of self-destruction. It was a scholarly article laying out all the reasons that unloved children were unworthy of the kind of love a soulmate could give and receive.
It wasn’t that, really. He knew that, could see that logically. The study only claimed that in order to develop a soulmark - in addition to whatever hand of fate was involved - someone had to have a working understanding of love. A foundation for their soulmark to build upon. It didn’t mean someone who had grown up unloved could never love, only -
Only that their hearts were not open enough, maybe.
He shut down the computer and left the library, and did not think about it anymore.
That wasn’t true. He thought about it sometimes in the darkness of his tiny apartment above St. Agnes. He thought about it especially when Ronan was asleep on his floor, when he could hear Ronan’s soft breaths as they both tried to sleep.
He had never tried to look at the name on Ronan’s arm again. He thought sometimes about what it would be like. Blue’s soulmate had been right there, they’d all known. Ronan? Adam had no idea who his could be. Maybe he’d never meet them. Maybe the name didn’t matter.
Adam did not know if it would ever not matter to him.
But overall, there wasn’t much time to think about soulmates and soulmarks and the intricacies of attraction to a man with a soulmark when you had none. They had a lot of other things going on. School, their futures, hit men, rich sociopaths. Dreams that became real, monsters that were dreams. Demons. Psychics. A magical forest atop a ley line.
It was magic, in the end. It was one perfect moment, when Adam felt power in his fingertips and in his heart, when the forest curled around his mind and he thought: this is what love is.
It was new. It was impossible. Love could be so many things.
He didn’t notice the name scrawled across his wrist until he was showering that night, until he reached up to scrub his hair and a flicker of black caught his eye. Then he couldn’t stop looking at it.
Days later, Ronan kissed him. Adam kissed him back.
Later that night, on his porch, Ronan said, “I don’t care if you don’t have a mark,” and held his wrist out to Adam. Adam pushed the wristbands aside and traced his fingers over the letters there, Adam, made bumpy by scars but still so, so clear.
He didn’t say anything. He only held out his own arm so that Ronan could see his name, stark black on the inside of Adam’s tender wrist, new and true and impossible.
He heard Ronan’s intake of breath and stepped forward to kiss him.
Chapter 2: catchy tunes
2 - "That's not what I meant." Short and silly.
It started out subtly. Adam shut off his alarm almost as soon as it started - he always had, habit from needing to get up on time or risk losing out on a work shift. College hadn’t changed that, with the amount of morning classes he took. He rarely heard much more than a couple seconds of it, which was why it took him almost a full week before he realized the tune was a disgustingly catchy rendition of the Murder Squash song.
That was fine. Ronan thought his gifts were clever, and Adam refused to let him win, because somehow he knew this was only the beginning.
He kept using the alarm clock, though. Shutting it off before the actual song started was a great motivator. His roommate thought it was weird, but to be honest, his roommate thought most of what Adam did was kind of weird.
After that, it was his crappy cell phone. Ronan hadn’t changed his own ringtone - that would have been too obvious, and he called Adam enough that the game would be up too fast. No, he was much too smart for that. Instead, he’d changed the ringtones of five other random contacts in Adam’s phone.
His academic advisor. His microbiology study partner. The coworker at the coffee shop whose shift he sometimes covered. The number the university library used for automated calls to remind him when his books were due. Henry Cheng.
At least, he thought it was five. Adam didn’t have the time or patience to check every one of his contacts, and he knew with some dread that a few weeks down the line someone who never called would call, and their ringtone would also have become that damn song.
Ronan was a menace. He changed them all back to the default ringtone and said nothing.
It was his car that was the last straw.
The shitbox’s radio only occasionally worked. It had no CD player and the cassette tape player had finally broken, with Adam having neither the time or will to fix it. The car ran, which was all that mattered. He didn’t need music to listen to while he drove, anyway.
Until one day, on the drive between his off-campus job at the coffee shop, when the Murder Squash song began blaring out of the speakers at top volume, practically deafening Adam’s one remaining ear.
He honestly didn’t know whether Ronan had rigged his radio with some dream thing so it would start playing weeks after Adam had last been home to the Barns, or whether he’d just stuck a tape in there and hoped it’d eventually start working again. It didn’t really matter, either was equally possible.
The worst part quickly became clear. Adam couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.
He pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car, leaving it running, that horrible song still audible through the windows. He listened to his phone ring, a blessedly simple thing.
When Ronan picked up, all he said was, “When I told you I even missed your shitty music, this is not what I meant, asshole.”
Ronan started laughing and did not stop for some time. Adam didn't hang up on him.
It was (almost) worth the torture.
Chapter 3: parades not included
3 - Pride.
My many years of attending Pride ended because I, too, am a curmudgeon who doesn't like sun or crowds.
It was loud, it was hot, it was crowded. The streets were full of people, laughing and shouting and even dancing. Now that the parade was over, the crowds had eased up a little - but not by much. There were still more people than Ronan cared to think about pressing in on all sides.
He hated it.
He leaned back against a wall, as far out of the flow of people as possible, which unfortunately wasn’t far. Eyes scanning the crowd for Adam, he waited.
He hadn’t wanted to come, which should have been no surprise to anyone. Gatherings like this weren’t really Ronan’s thing in the best of times, and right now, in the sticky Virginia heat, he wanted to be anywhere else. He was standing in the shade now, for safety, because despite the sunscreen Adam had forced him to slather on he was pretty sure he was developing a sunburn.
He hadn’t wanted to come, but though Adam hadn’t seemed particularly excited about the idea either, he’d insisted they try it once. “Blue says Pride is a lot of fun,” had been his not-particularly-convincing argument, but since Ronan would pretty much do whatever he asked, here they were.
He caught sight of Adam making his way through the crowd, water bottles in hand. He looked hot too, and not exactly like he was having the time of his life, his brows drawing down and his forehead wrinkled.
Compared to some of the crowd around them, Adam in his jeans and t-shirt looked enticingly plain. He wasn’t wearing glitter or rainbows or shorts that showed half his ass, but all Ronan could see was tired, hot Adam, his hair beginning to stick to the sweat on his forehead. He stayed where he was, reasoning that any movement into the crowd was likely to end with them separated and lost, even if he knew right where Adam was in this moment.
Instead, he watched Adam make his way through the crowd, which meant that he saw the moment a tall, unsettlingly handsome guy with no shirt on leaned in to whisper in his ear and smile at him. It was the wrong ear, which explained why Adam responded with a polite, if strained, smile and words that Ronan couldn’t quite make out but were probably something like, “excuse me.”
The tall guy didn’t look put off at all, and said something else, something that made Adam smile. It wasn’t quite his real smile - it was his careful you-said-something-nice-but-I-don’t-know-you smile - but it was still genuine. Adam said something else Ronan couldn’t make out
That was about all Ronan could take, given his already shitty mood. He ignored the crowd, beelining straight for Adam, where he rather possessively slung an arm around his waist, scowling at the stranger. Adam let him, which later Ronan would appreciate, because Adam did not always indulge his moments of possessive childishness, and sometimes would respond with rolled eyes or a sharp reminder that he wouldn’t tolerate being treated like something that belonged to Ronan (except for the times he did tolerate, and even like, it).
This time, Adam leaned into him a little, which was all the encouragement Ronan needed. His scowl grew darker, and the man raised his hands, an amused smile making him, if anything, even more handsome.
“Hey, man, he’s all yours,” he said, then disappeared into the crowd.
Adam pressed one of the water bottles into Ronan’s free hand, but didn’t pull away quite yet. “That was rude,” he said, and Ronan could hear the laughter in his voice.
“I’m not just gonna stand around and watch while some asshole hits on you,” Ronan said. He felt that was reason enough, and quite clear and understandable. Adam might not be his property, but he was still his, just like Ronan was Adam’s, and also, fuck that guy.
Adam’s shoulders shook with laughter. “I mean, maybe he was getting there, but his exact words were ‘Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome over there is staring at you’. I told him you were my boyfriend.”
“Oh,” Ronan said, because he didn’t really know what else to say.
“Asshole,” Adam said, affectionate and entirely fond, and Ronan kissed him in the middle of that loud, hot, jam-packed crowd.
He hated Pride. For that moment, though, he loved the knowledge that he could kiss his boyfriend in public and not worry about stares, about people’s opinions, about dipshit Henrietta hicks who might try to start something. No one around them cared. No one around them even looked twice - except for some random guy who whistled at them.
When he let Adam go, their eyes met.
“I hate this,” Adam said, the edges of his lips quirking into a smile. “I can barely hear anything, it’s way too hot, and some stranger just pissed my boyfriend off.”
“Yeah, this shit sucks. I can be proud at home. Come on,” Ronan said, and took Adam’s hand to lead him through the crowd.
And no one looked at them twice.
Chapter 4: paying respects
4 - death. "Adam looked at the dirt beneath which his father was buried and wondered what to say."
Adam didn’t visit the grave until after the funeral. Long after - a week later, in fact. He didn’t want even the possibility of running into one of his father’s friends, or worse, his mother.
She’d left a long message on his voice mail after he didn’t come to the funeral. He’d listened to it once, even though he’d known better.
In some ways, his mother had tried after he left. They hadn’t kept in contact, not exactly, but he’d sent her letters once in awhile - a copy of the letter informing him he was on the Dean’s list, an invitation to his graduation that he knew wouldn’t be taken, a notification of a job he’d accepted. His wedding announcement.
She hadn’t really replied. A postcard, once or twice. A very small flower arrangement for his graduation. Nothing after the wedding, nothing until his father got sick.
If Adam had had to guess the ultimate cause of his father’s death, his first assumption would have been drunk driving. After that, maybe a fight with a drinking buddy. Or his liver giving out. Or simply his own rotted soul eating away at him until his body couldn’t take it anymore.
Prostate cancer wouldn’t have been very high on the list.
His mother had called him at work, because she hadn’t had his personal number. That’s where he learned about the cancer, and the limited amount of time left, and that she wanted him to try to ‘make up’ with his father.
As if, somehow, Adam had been partially responsible for their shattered family all along.
Once, Adam had believed that. For a long time after, he’d believed it in his heart of hearts while denying it in his head. Logically knowing that abuse isn’t your fault doesn’t make you believe it, and for all that Adam valued logic above most things, it couldn’t defeat his demons.
But years of therapy, a job he loved, a home he belonged in, and an asshole husband who adored him beyond reason had put him a long way on the path towards healing. By the time his father got sick, Adam had fought that particular demon and won.
He wasn’t responsible for the things his father had done. Somewhere in her own heart of hearts, his mother held some blame for him, but he wouldn’t accept that. Never again.
And there was no way in hell he’d make up with his father.
So he didn’t visit. He gave his mother his own number, so she wouldn’t call his work again, and after long deliberation he paid some of their medical bills. He could easily afford it, they couldn’t, and to Adam it felt like - in a strange way - revenge. They had never taken care of him, after all, and now he could do this and not worry about it taking anything from him except a bit of money. It was a reminder, to them and to himself, that he’d gotten away. That he’d built a future, a successful and financially stable life, without any help from them.
Ronan had been amused. “If anyone could figure out how to pay someone’s bills maliciously, I’m not fucking surprised it was you,” he’d said, and it had made Adam smile at a time when his emotions were in turmoil. Ronan had always been good at that.
But he hadn’t visited. He’d listened to his mother’s messages, though. She’d called regularly, updating him on his father’s condition and telling Adam he didn’t have much time left to ‘fix things’.
It was a rough few weeks.
And then Robert Parrish died.
And Adam did not attend his funeral. He’d gone to work instead, deliberately working overtime. Work had always been a sort of sanctuary for him, even before he was doing something he loved, and he knew that losing himself in it would be a better distraction than anything else. After, he’d gone home, and he’d listened to his mother’s message, and Ronan had sat next to him and held his hand as he tried to figure out whether he was going to cry, or scream, or laugh, or just continue on with his life as if nothing had happened.
And now he was here, in front of his father’s grave.
There was no gravestone yet, only a marker with Robert Parrish’s name on it. Adam looked at the dirt beneath which his father was buried and wondered what to say.
I hope you rot in hell didn’t quite seem appropriate, but anything kinder would be even less so. Adam stood there for a long time, and then he felt like a fool. Why say anything? His father was dead, and that was where he deserved to be, and anything left undone would always remain that way. That was not Adam’s fault. None of it had been.
He didn’t feel angry. He had thought he would. He didn’t feel much of anything.
“You don’t have any power over me anymore,” Adam said, and it felt more true in that moment than it had anytime he’d thought it before, anytime he’d said it to his therapist, his friends, Ronan.
“Goodbye,” he said.
Then he turned away and walked back to his car. He got in. Ronan looked at him from the driver’s seat, Ronan who had been there the whole time, fighting Adam’s father and loving Adam, as they both figured out their sharp edges and how they fit together, supporting each other through all the healing that had to happen to get them to a place of happiness, of strength.
Adam reached across and took Ronan’s hand. Ronan brushed his thumb across Adam’s fingers, raised them to his mouth for a brief and tender kiss. He drove them home.
Adam didn’t look back.
Chapter 5: freshly baked
5 - fandom crossover. "Adam wasn’t going down without a fight."
Life is a harsh and difficult place and sometimes the best way to handle that is by opening a bottle of wine and going on a Great British Bake-Off binge. That's the only excuse I have for this.
If you've never seen the show, well, it's a reality baking competition. That's pretty much it.
Adam noticed him on the very first day.
He’d surveyed all of them, of course, a quick flick of his gaze to establish the competition. He’d noticed Ronan’s height - taller than Adam, and Adam was not short - and the breadth of his shoulders. His buzzed hair, his scowl. Adam had dismissed him as a thug who’d been picked for a bit of color.
He was wrong. Very quickly, he was proven wrong, when Ronan won the crown of star baker before anyone else.
Adam had noticed him before that, but that moment was when Ronan really landed on his radar. After that, it was more than just a vague admiration for a man with a sharp smile and clever hands, the kind of thing Adam routinely ignored. After that, he began to notice Ronan’s talent.
And he was talented. His bakes were audacious, creative, artistic. His successes were incredible, his failures almost as splendid. Adam heard it again and again: compliments on Ronan’s unique flavors, on his avante-garde presentation. When he failed, it was because he’d tried something so bold that he couldn’t quite pull it off - but the idea, that was always incredible.
Adam was impressed and annoyed in equal measure, and he knew himself well enough to know that it was because he admired Ronan’s baking. He himself was technically perfect - his bread never proved for too short a time, his biscuits always had just the right snap. His failures were failures of imagination: sticking too close to traditional recipes, choosing flavors that were not quite exciting enough.
He admired Ronan because Ronan didn’t seem to care what anyone thought. He baked because he loved it, because it was a form of creation, and he was willing to try anything if it seemed right.
Even after all these years, Adam had never managed to stop caring what others thought. He smoothed out his lower-class accent for the cameras, didn’t mention where he’d grown up, chose his clothing carefully to be sure he looked like he belonged there as much as anyone. He didn’t really have to worry, not now, so far from what he had once been - but he did.
And it was for similar reasons that he kept to the recipes he knew, the ones Persephone had taught him when he’d needed so badly to get out of his own house for a little while, the ones he still made himself as a form of relaxation, of comfort.
He admired Ronan’s baking because he admired Ronan, who wore muscle shirts that showed off bits of his tattoo, who shaved his head close and wore black and looked like a thug but baked like he was born to it.
(Much later, he would learn that Ronan had been born to it, that he had been taught by his mother, spent his childhood helping her bake. But that was later.)
At the same time, though, Ronan pissed him off. He didn’t care what anyone thought, he wasn’t friendly like some of the others - like Noah, charming and energetic, or Gansey, always ready with a helping hand if someone needed it. Ronan mostly kept to himself, except for the occasional sharp smile or sarcastic comment, or the more exciting outbursts of swearing when something went wrong.
And Adam always heard them, because Ronan was stationed right in front of him. It meant that when he looked up from his own baking, he saw Ronan’s back, his broad shoulders and frustratingly nice arms. It meant that sometimes he looked up and Ronan was looking at him, turned around just enough to catch Adam’s eye. Sometimes it seemed accidental. Sometimes it seemed entirely deliberate.
Either way, it was distracting, and Adam couldn’t afford distraction. This was a competition, after all, and he didn’t care if Ronan was handsome and intriguing and an incredible baker, Adam wasn’t going down without a fight.
It didn’t help that once, after a particularly harsh critique, Ronan had leaned over to steal a croissant off Adam’s tray. He’d eaten it, Adam staring in shock, and then said, “Tastes fine to me. Little dry, maybe.”
Adam had not had any idea what to take from that. A subtle dig? An attempt at comfort? Just Ronan being, well, whatever Ronan was?
He was incredibly distracting. And what’s more, he never went away.
Despite Ronan’s sometimes absurd failures, he managed to pull out enough improbable successes to stick around, week after week. And so did Adam, coasting along on the strength of his fundamental skills. When he won star baker one week, he found himself shooting Ronan a triumphant glance, and to his surprise Ronan looked - pleased.
Adam pushed it out of his mind and focused on the competition. It was a friendly competition, he reminded himself over and over, knowing his own competitive streak was likely to take over if he didn’t. And the truth was, he liked the people he was meeting. He liked Gansey and Noah, he nurtured a secret crush on Blue until he saw Gansey sighing over her one weekend.
Adam didn’t have many friends, so it was strange to suddenly find so many people he liked. And in a reality baking competition, of all places. But they were all under the same pressure, they all had baking and the show in common, and it created a kind of bond.
Which made it difficult to see someone go each week. But there Ronan was, with his ups and his downs, his scowls and his fierce smiles. And there Adam was, consistent and cautious.
It shocked him, in the end, when it was down to them and Noah. He flicked a glance at Ronan at the beginning of the weekend, as the cameras were being set up, and saw Ronan looking back at him. Noah was between them, practically vibrating with excitement, but for a moment all thoughts of baking disappeared from Adam’s head.
Then the day began, and he had to focus.
Adam had always done well under stress, thanks to being under stress for most of his life. He performed as well as he could, finding the low, near-constant swearing from Ronan’s station an odd comfort. When it was all over, he felt satisfied, felt like he had done his best. He wanted to win, but knew already that he wouldn’t, for the same reasons he’d heard the whole time.
Too careful. Not taking enough risks. Precise and meticulous, but not adventurous.
It was not a surprise when he didn’t win. It was, however, a surprise that Ronan didn’t, either.
As they watched Noah receiving hugs from his friends, a huge smile on his face, Adam couldn’t help smiling too. Honestly, Noah deserved it, but - he glanced at Ronan, standing nearby, unreadable.
“I thought you would win,” Adam admitted.
Ronan looked at him, an expression of genuine surprise crossing his face. “I was pretty sure you would.”
For a long moment, Adam studied Ronan - his sharp jawline, his eyelashes, the full weight of his attention on Adam.
Then he decided to be adventurous.
“Maybe you could show me how you made your petit fours,” he said. “Just the two of us.”
It was forward, but when Adam made a decision, he was the type to go for it. He didn’t know if Ronan even liked men - but he thought, maybe, he’d seen something in Ronan’s eyes. He thought maybe Ronan had looked at him a little too much.
But then Ronan just stared at him, silent, and Adam began to reassess things. They’d been under a lot of pressure on that show, and thrown into proximity neither had asked for. Perhaps the looks had been nothing. Perhaps they’d been something negative. Perhaps someone like Ronan could never, even for a moment, entertain the idea of being with someone like Adam.
“Oh my god,” Noah piped up. He was next to Adam all of a sudden, and if anything his smile was even brighter. “I can’t believe you just did that, Adam! He’s been soppy over you for weeks. This is fantastic!”
Ronan went bright red, swore furiously, and graced Noah with a glare that should have killed him in an instant. Naturally, it had no effect. Adam felt a surge of something like hope, something that sparked into flame when Ronan looked at him again.
“Yeah,” he said, scowling still, though now Adam could see how it only barely covered his embarrassment and - something else. Maybe a hope to match Adam’s own. “Guess we could.”
It felt a little like victory.
Chapter 6: just one
6 - indulgence.
Set during the series, after TDT.
Ronan allows himself glances. Sometimes, when he is feeling particularly indulgent, those glances lengthen to gazes, to long looks drinking in Adam Parrish. Sometimes Adam notices. Often he doesn’t.
It started as such things do - the way Adam’s slim fingers held his pencil, the curve of his shoulders as he bent over his schoolwork. At first Ronan had not realized. At first he’d pretended it was something else, that when his eyes settled on Adam Parrish it was simply because he was a new thing, a strange thing in his world. He indulged in anger, in hostility, until Adam’s refusal to be frightened away defeated Ronan’s attempts to keep him away.
He knows the truth better now. Not that Adam isn’t still strange, different, impossible. Not that Adam doesn’t sometimes seem like a miracle, a creature inhuman and intriguing. Adam is still all those things, but Ronan doesn’t lie to himself anymore. Not about that.
So he allows himself glances. Sometimes the flash of Adam’s fingers as he tucks a stray hair behind his ear is the only thing worth going to school for, after all.
At Monmouth, he feigns indifference as Gansey and Adam talk, as they pore over schoolwork or Gansey’s projects. He plays with Chainsaw or he mocks them or he just stares at the ceiling, but his eyes always return to Adam after a certain period of time. He’ll hear Adam’s laugh, quiet and startled, and he’ll be unable to keep from looking, because Adam’s uncomplicated laughter is something he would tear down mountains for.
Or they’ll be hiking through the woods, following Gansey, and he’ll watch as Adam turns to ask Blue a question or - more likely - make an insightful comment. He’ll watch the curve of Adam’s lips, the spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose, the way the sunlight gilds his dusty hair and turns him into a golden creature.
It’s hard to stop looking sometimes.
Once, Ronan visited Adam at work. He tried to, anyway, he got as far as the door of the garage. There Adam was, curled over a car engine, grease painting his fingers, his brow creased in concentration. His slim figure in his coveralls had turned out to be rather too much, and Ronan had left rather than attract his attention.
He thinks sometimes of the way Gansey’s mothers friends talk. “Oh, I was so bad last night, I had an extra slice of cake.” “I just couldn’t say no.” “I really shouldn’t have, but -”
Ronan is guilty, sometimes. He doesn’t believe his feelings themselves are wrong, but his stolen glances feel forbidden in that same way, like they should be parceled out, like he should implement some sort of Adam Parrish diet. Because if he starts looking, if he really starts, he isn’t sure he’ll be able to stop.
They go swimming in the summer heat, and he knows it’s true. Adam’s body, slender and wiry, draws his eyes no matter what he distracts himself with. He can’t stop tracing the path of a water droplet as it slides down Adam’s shoulder, catching on his collarbone. Ronan imagines brushing it away with a fingertip, the heat of Adam’s skin warmed by the sun. He imagines catching it with his mouth, lips and tongue pressed along the elegant curve of Adam’s collarbone.
He has to walk away. He chooses to storm off angrily, or perhaps it isn’t a choice, perhaps it’s all he can do with this heat that’s inside of him. He walks to the car, presses his fist against the hot metal, lets the burn of it distract him. He may be unable to keep from indulging, but he can try, he can try to control himself.
When his thoughts are no longer clouded, he turns back to the lake. As he turns, Adam’s eyes flicker away from him. He catches it, only for an instant.
It’s the first time he catches Adam Parrish stealing a glance. It isn’t the last.